The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ma's Second Calling

By G. M. Allen © 1986

Issue: May, 1986

My ma was a woman who believed in giving medicine. I guess she was the medicine givingest woman in the country, prob'ly. She must have been cut out for a doctor, because she had all the doctorin' instincts. Coupled with mother-instincts, that meant she practiced medicine on her children. She was bound and determined that they should not just grow up, but grow up healthy as well. If they failed in that, at least she would know it wasn't because she hadn't looked after their health.

There were several girls in our family. Ma was not satisfied unless they all looked to be in the pink of health. She wanted the roses in their cheeks to be good blood showing through, and not that rouge-paint that was the style to use then. She made a second calling out of doctoring her family; the trouble was, she had too good an imagination as to if, when, and what someone needed! I reckon she didn't worry much about Pa's health, because the only medicine I noticed him taking was hore-hound candy when he felt a sore throat coming on.

It seemed like she sort of picked out her oldest girl as the one who needed the most doctorin'. Frazia was kind of slim-faced, and maybe not too bouncin'. Ma was always and forever pronouncin' her to be "looking peaked," and then she would get busy buying, or ordering, or mixing some kind of concoction to dose her with. Every new remedy she saw advertised had to be tried out on poor Frazia. On top of that, Ma was always consulting with the neighbor women as to what they had tried in sickness, or as to what the old-timey people had used for such and such. Frazia wasn't all that sickly, as I could see!

Ma tried Golden Medical Discovery and Dr. Pierce's Favorite Prescription on Frazia. She tried Peruna. She tried Nuxated Iron. She gave her bountiful doses of olive oil, but that didn't do anything but make Frazia's hair greasy, so she declared. On top of all that, Ma mixed "bitters," which I can tell you had the right name! You could tell by smelling it. Two of the ingredients were spikenard root, and wild cherry bark, which no doubt furnished the bitterness! Half a dozen other herbs were added, just in case Frazia had whatever they were good for.

We younger children were given, according to Ma's instincts of the moment, castor oil, or worse, castor oil with a few drops of turpentine together; black draft, maybe worm medicine (flavored with vermifuge, a horrible smelling plant that grew near the pig lot); or maybe, Ramons' pills. I used to envy the youngest child, because that one always got Castaria instead of castor oil; or the castor oil was massaged on her lower stomach, with the idea that its beneficial effects would soak in which maybe they did.

Vick's Salve wasn't bad, though. It was quite comforting when it was rubbed on the chest to open up stuffy heads, or to loosen a croupy cough. And before we went to bed we might be treated with hot lemonade when we had colds; that made us feel real pampered! When we got ear-aches, Ma would get up the coldest night to make a hot-poultice of wet ashes, 'lien wrapped. Just a few minutes with the aching ear laid on that, and it wasn't aching any more. But pity the one who got a pain in the side! That meant a mustard plaster would be applied. It helped that pain, and gave a different kind; burnt blisters. Ma wasn't too strong on ginger stew, though. She tried it a few times, but decided the liquor had been strengthened with red-stem ivy, and would probably poison us. She did give us teaspoons of sugar with a few drops of whiskey when we had flu, but we went right on aching, as Ma noted. But pity poor Frazia; she got all this and a lot morel

It went on like this for years, Ma practicin" medicine without a license on her children.

One cold night we were all sitting around the fire in the family sitting room. Our grandma slept on a big four-poster bed in this room and she had already gone to bed. Ma came into the room carrying a bottle of bitters and a big tablespoon. She headed for Frazia, who happened to be standing outside the circle at the moment. Frazia gave Ma one wild, desperate glance, and dived headfirst under Grandma's bed. She skuttled to the back out of Ma's reach, too. Ma set the medicine down and started to try to coax her out, but just then there came a knock at the door. Ma went to the door, and invited the two young men who stood there into the family room, where the fire was.

Well, I don't know how Ma ought to have handled the situation, but what she did was to say to those young fellows, "Look under the bed!"

They looked puzzled, - didn't know what to expect, of course, but they bent down, lifted up the coverlid and peered under. When Frazia saw them looking at her, there wasn't anything sensible to do but come crawling out! But her face was as rosy as even Ma could have wished it, and her eyes were as big as a hoot-owl's! There wasn't any use of her pretending she was playing whoophide with the children, because nobody was up huntin'. Then Ma picked up the spoon and the bitters and took them back to the kitchen. Nobody laughed much; there wasn't any use of embarrassing Frazia any further! Under the bed was neither a dignified nor exactly romantic place to be found! I did notice the young fellows grinnin' a little as we made room for them at the fire. They must have figured how come her to be under the bed.

I never knew what took place between Ma and Frazia later, but I think Ma must have been a mite sorry, because she let up on Frazia on the medicine-taking. I feel sure that Frazia issued her declaration of intentions of deciding for herself when she needed doctorin'. After all, she was a grown girl. Ma lost her best patient that night!